By Dr. Mirta Roses Periago
A new year always brings about new hope and renewed commitments. 2015 is a pivotal year for the international community and also for the call to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). So, here goes my “wish list” for 2015, which includes seven achievable yet ambitious victories for the global health and development community.
1. A step closer to declaring Latin America and the Caribbean free of river blindness
In 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world, as declared by the WHO to have eliminated river blindness transmission, and Ecuador followed shortly after in 2014. These countries show what can be achieved with unwavering political will and sustained action.
Mexico and Guatemala have stopped transmission of river blindness and are already in advanced stages with the WHO to take the final steps towards verifying elimination.
So, I am confident that Brazil and Venezuela will be successful in targeting the Americas’ final cases of river blindness, located along their borders among the indigenous Yanomami community. Through south south cooperation, they have joined forces to ensure that the all the Yanomami receive access to the treatments they need – tackling the last stronghold of river blindness in the region.
2. Progress towards eliminating lymphatic filariasis in the Latin America and the Caribbean
About 13.4 million people across the Latin American and Caribbean are at risk of lymphatic filariasis (LF), nearly 80 percent of them in Haiti. Despite challenges in recent years, including a cholera outbreak and earthquake, Haiti has been able to reach the entire population – about 10 million people – through mass drug administration (MDA). I hope to see continued support from the Haitian government and partners to interrupt the transmission of LF.
Additionally, I hope to see Brazil eliminate LF from the last active site in the country, located in the state of Pernambuco. Brazil has already eliminated LF in 8 states; this success is a clear reflection of their longstanding commitment and dedication to disease control and public health
3. The Inclusion of NTDs as part of Canada’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) policies and programs
Many of Canada’s priority partner countries carry significant burdens of malnutrition and NTDs, including Haiti, as well as Indonesia and Tanzania, posing a serious threat to maternal, newborn and child health. NTDs lead to stunting, wasting and the loss of Vitamin A and iron – hindering child growth and causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.
That is why I traveled to Ottawa last fall and called on Canadian policymakers to make sure that they integrate NTDs into their development strategies. Canada can help save lives and make a real difference for women and children by making sure that they have access to NTD treatments. This is a smart policy choice, one that could be financed through the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman, Every Child.
4. Regional Bodies translate promises into concrete action
Canada, Costa Rica and Brazil are among the 35 countries that passed a resolution in the Organization of American States in 2013, pledging to end the suffering of the 100 million people impacted by NTDs in the Americas. Health Ministers from Central America have also recognized the burden of NTDs, most recently at their 2013 regional meeting of the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA).
I hope that the OAS, COMISCA and other regional organizations will leverage these important policy commitments to catalyze greater financial support and partnerships – just as COMISCA did for malaria. In addition to discussing NTDs during their 2013 regional health summit, several countries rallied together to eliminate malaria in the region.
Partners followed suit and the Global Fund invested $10.2 million to support this regional initiative, adding to the national malaria grants already approved. The results of these commitments are clear: malaria rates have been falling, often times dramatically, across Latin America– and the region is just steps away from eliminating this disease as a public health threat. This is an excellent example of how strong, united regional commitments can accelerate global health efforts – and one that can be applied to the fight against NTDs.
5. BRICS fight NTDs at home and abroad
Last December, the BRICS Health Ministers gathered in Brasilia for the 4th Health Ministers meeting, where they added NTDs to their collective agenda for the very first time. I am very excited to see the BRICS countries work together to help see the end of NTDs by 2020.
I encourage the BRICS to build on this commitment by continuing to prioritize NTDs within their own countries. I also hope they will explore ways to fight NTDs across the globe. The New Development Bank could offer a venue for the BRICS to finance NTD control efforts as part of their broader sustainable development projects.
6. G7 leaders make financial commitments to end NTDs by 2020
The G7 is off to an excellent start in 2015. Neglected and poverty-related diseases made it onto the G7 agenda for the upcoming June 2015 Summit. This year is critical for the G7 to take immediate action to close the books on their unfulfilled promise to expand access to NTD treatments.
7. Post-2015 Development Agenda Includes NTDs
I’m looking forward to seeing how the post-2015 development agenda takes shape this year. We absolutely must utilize existing global health solutions – including the NTD treatments generously donated by pharmaceutical companies. I am happy that NTDs were included as a health priority in the final Sustainable Working Group framework. However, they were not specifically mentioned in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent synthesis report. If NTDs are not clearly identified in the final post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding sustainable development goals, they will once again remain as forgotten and invisible as the people and communities affected by them. Let us make them a health priority so that we can see the end of NTDs by 2020.